June 29, 2017
In my first blog post I touched the topic of 360 product photography. We’re using it to add a new dimension to the online shopping experience. It works by capturing a series of still product images, rotated on one or more axes. This helps create a virtual shopping experience that simulates the in-store shopping experience, giving shoppers a realistic view in a virtual environment.
The challenge is how do we capture this series of still images precisely for each and and every product in a fast and efficient manner and then stitch them into interactive 360 product views.
How does the Virtual Tour work? We have a mechanical turn-table that automatically spins at a calibrated degree (we set it to 10 degrees) and wirelessly sends signals to a camera. Every 10 degrees the camera captures an image, and so we get 36 angles of the product. Brilliant, isn’t it?
Given the size & weight of the lamps, heavy hardware had to be built to withstand the inertia of the product as it rotates. This involves CNC processes like cutting, grinding & machining to develop a product to be precise in its operation - precision being the key to the 360 product photography. Further, we would have to shoot and upload inventory regularly on our website - the hardware would be used continuously for 10 - 14 hours a day, regularly. It would have to withstand this continuous usage without heating up or stalling in any other way. For this reason the electronics used in the CNC machines are used to build the turntable system to have the ruggedness required.
Further, we also built a layer of software to provide synchronization between the rotation of the turntable and triggering of the camera to capture the product images.
We did face a few challenges while introducing the 360 spins. First - what kind of background do we go with - plain or textured? How do we showcase Ceiling Lights? What if the product is too large / heavy for the table? How do we capture products that are reflective in nature without capturing reflections of the camera and equipment itself?
We had a catalog of 300+ products to be photographed, and pretty much every product brought with it its own challenge. And this was only the pilot run before actually getting into 360 Spins of our entire catalog - 300+ products of various shapes, sizes, textures & materials. Phew!
1: The Aesthetics:
The first question on our mind was - what kind of background do we use? We wanted a subtle light background, to bring the product really into focus. We decided to go with a light white brick background, that did add a touch of style to the photographs. Though, with this we learnt that the background steals focus from the product itself! We then switched over to a plain grey background, keeping the product entirely in focus itself - and that turned out beautifully! See the difference:
The grey background was a clear winner, and we went ahead to use that for all our product photographs henceforth.
2: All that glitters ain’t camera-friendly:
Next, comes the challenge of the reflective products. Our latest collection focusses on Crystal Table Lamps, Glass Table Lamps, and in general products that are ridiculously hard to photograph. Stuff we take for granted in daily life even! Our photography team informed us that it isn’t possible to shoot a reflective product, as the tendency is to reflect everything in the ugliest of ways and overall just look shabby. They came up with a solution to this - encasing the product in a white tent, so all that can be seen is just the white and nothing else. The camera captures the product through a small peek-hole in the tent. Don’t believe me? See for yourself:
3: The Case of the Ceiling Lights
Remember how I said every product came with its own challenge? It’s not over yet - the most difficult was yet to come. We have a large range of hanging lights & chandeliers on our website - most of them having intricate designs, and some really heavy in weight (around 80-100kgs).
How do we showcase a Virtual Tour of these products? We can’t place them on a table, that doesn’t capture the essence of a hanging light. We can’t shift the camera every 10 degrees, or move the lights manually, again, too much room for error.
A few brainstorming sessions later our photography team (ever the heroes) came up with an astounding solution - one that we didn’t even know was possible - a robotic arm that’s inverted and affixed to a stand - that will do the same job as the turn-table did, only inverted. Sounds futuristic? Thats cuz it is!
The arm rotates continuously, and wirelessly sends signals to the camera that shoots the photo at the click of the rotation. This inverted turntable setup is the first of its kind developed and used in India!
The arm can hold upto 100kgs of weight - here’s a video of our 6-foot wide Chandelier being shot:
Overall, we're super excited to be bringing new technology to e-commerce and are constantly trying new ways to improve the shopping experience.
June 29, 2017
June 29, 2017
Stories by Rashmi Bachani